My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This site follows my happy trails.

Month: November, 2013

Lake Woes

North Dakota might not be the most scenic state in the nation, but our family was continuously on the go all the time we lived in Beulah. Our favorite recreation was days spent at the lake fishing. You might think lake fishing from shore is boring, but we seldom had that problem. When you’re out fishing with several kids aged five to ten years old it’s never quiet or peaceful.

One Sunday we arrived at the lake and all the kids wanted to get rigged, baited, and fishing immediately. Linda and I got them all situated and fishing. We managed to get Linda fishing, but my pole never got baited up. One kid or the other had some kind of a problem that required attention as the sun warmed up and we enjoyed the day. Our youngest son Jody had a new children’s Jebco fish pole with an enclosed spinning reel. We owned several of them through the years and had always had good luck with them. Jody, with the patience of most five year old boys, didn’t let the bait stay in one spot long enough to reach bottom before he was reeling in to cast again. There was a flaw in the reel on Jody’s new pole and the line was constantly tangled and knotted on the spool. I would get his line back in the water, check the other kids, start rigging my pole, and he would be hollering again because his reel wouldn’t work. After about four hours non stop, I told him to give me his pole. I gripped the four foot pole by the end, swung it like a baseball bat with a reel on the end, and threw it as far as possible into the lake. The pole would never tangle up again. I don’t know who hollered the most, Jody or Linda, when the big splash caught everybody’s attention. Jody recovered and shared my pole the rest of the day.

On another fishing trip we took our old ATC 90 three wheeler for the kids to ride. Jamie, our ten year old son, was riding and I cautioned him about riding too close to the vertical bank along the shoreline. If he kept riding on the edge and the bank collapsed he would end up in the lake ten feet away. Sure enough, an hour later we heard a couple clumps, and a splash as the ATC tumbled into the lake with Jamie. He stood up in shallow water, waved at me with a bewildered face, and said “The ATC , the ATC, get the ATC”. I didn’t even flinch as I told him “You’re the dummy that put it in the lake. Get your ass in there and get it back out.” It took him a while, but he wrestled the floating upside down machine back to shore. He hadn’t even had time to see if he was hurt or not, but he learned to fix his own mistake instead of hollering at Dad.

Thirty years later Jamie and Jody both laugh at these incidents……….Linda still can’t believe I threw Jody’s new pole in the lake.



Our family lived in a company owned mobile home park while working on a tunnel project near Beulah, ND. The mobile homes were very clean and well maintained. Our home sat on a corner lot with a large front yard where our three children had lots of room to play. The front entry to the mobile home was a small metal set of stairs with a metal platform about six feet by six feet. An aluminum storm door provided protection for the front entry door. Our children were 10, 7, and 5 years old. They weren’t used to using a small front porch for access because our recent homes had been ground level entries.

Our children also were not accustomed to the North Dakota breezes. When you reside in North Dakota anything less than thirty miles an hour is a breeze. We went through a considerable training phase teaching the kids how to get in and out of the house safely. They had never seen a place where you couldn’t just open the door and walk outside. All of the kids had a habit of holding onto the storm door when leaving the house and closing the doors behind them. It worked great in most of the world, but not in Beulah. The kids would forget. When they exited the house holding onto the door the breeze would catch the door, slam it open, and launch them off the porch onto the front yard. No injuries, but it would scare the daylights out of them. Eventually they learned to crack the door very easy and squirm through the opening without letting the wind catch the door.

Our family transportation in North Dakota was a full size Chevy window van. Linda and I would often load the van and take the kids fishing in the afternoons and evenings. On one trip we had our three children and a couple of their neighborhood friends. We were fishing on Lake Sakakawea about twenty miles from Beulah. Everyone was enjoying the outing. I noticed the breeze had died down to nothing for a while, everything seemed extraordinarily calm and quiet. There were thunderheads to the south of us, but nothing uncommon. The winds started picking up and a thunderstorm was moving in on us. We packed everything in the van and headed home. Soon everything was very dark and the wind and rain was on us in a hurry. At times there were as many as five lightning bolts visible at one time. The broadside winds were buffeting the van around quite a bit. I found a turnout off the highway where I could position the van head on into the wind. We spent about twenty minutes not knowing if the van could remain on it’s wheels. The rain and hail poured down hard. It was pretty frightening for all of us. The storm was gone as fast as it appeared. In Beulah the high school gym lost it’s roof, wheeled garbage dumpsters had taken some long rides, and we had a nice aluminum boat laying in our front yard.

We didn’t catch many fish………but it was a very memorable fishing trip.

Sunday Sinking

My phone rang on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Beulah,ND. Kenny Pruitt, the equipment superintendent for Gates and Fox, had just received a call from our security guard at the Lake Sakakawea tunnel project. The security guard was concerned about our tugboat tied up at the floating dock on the job. He stated the tugboat appeared to be lower in the water than it was when he observed it earlier. Kenny asked me to ride out to the job with him to inspect the tugboat.

The security guard was right to be concerned. We were a hundred yards away from the dock when it was apparent our tug boat was in trouble. The floating dock was flipped in the air on a 45 degree angle. We couldn’t see the tugboat. When we got close to the dock we could see the two inch diameter nylon lines tied to the tugboat. They were stretched very very tight. The weight of the submerged tugboat suspended on the nylon lines was what tipped the dock at forty five degrees. We could see the silhouette of the submerged tugboat reflecting up from the lake. The situation was dangerous because if something shifted the dock could be flipped completely over as the submerged tugboat sank to the bottom. There were no major fuel or oil leaks contaminating the lake. We spent a while discussing the best way to recover the submerged tugboat. The damage was all ready done and we agreed to leave it alone until Monday morning when we had the manpower available to get the job done. Our biggest concern was the tugboat might break away from the dock and sink into the silty lake bottom.

My off shore crew went to work with our sixteen foot aluminum work boat Monday morning. The sixteen foot boat then returned to shore as a work platform for the crew raising the tugboat. We had a 100 ton tracked crane on site. It was moved to where it could reach the tugboat and dock. The crew was able to get slings under the tugboat to allow lifting with the crane. It was a slow process. As the crane lifted the tugboat the dock settled back into place. The tugboat was lifted just high enough to allow the crew to pump the water out of it. The crane could easily handle the tugboat, but not when it was full of water. The tugboat was sitting high and dry on wooden dunnage by lunch time. The afternoon was spent changing out lubricants and fuel. A new seal was ordered for the leaking propeller drive shaft. The tugboat was in the water and waiting for the day shift crew on Tuesday morning.

The sinking of the tug boat was bad…………..and so was the four dollar drive shaft seal that leaked.


Gates and Fox worked three shifts at our mining project on Lake Sakakawea near Beulah, ND. Like all multiple shift jobs, the graveyard shift had higher than normal employee turnover rates. Many people would take night shift employment until they could find normal day shift employment elsewhere. Such was the case of Bob LeMay’s crane operator on the off shore shaft graveyard shift. The operator gave Bob a few days notice. I called the local Operators union hall and ordered a new operator. My conversation with the new operator while getting him signed up at our job site office indicated he was used to the type of work we were doing. He had certifications to operate the 3900 Manitowoc which was on the offshore barge. He was given shift times and told where to meet the crew and tugboat for transportation to the barge for graveyard shift.

Bob’s crew assembled on the dock and took the tugboat to the off shore barge for shift change. The crew consisted of Bob, two miners, a welder mechanic, a crane operator, a top lander, and the tugboat operator. They held a safety meeting, serviced their equipment, and prepared the tools needed for the nights work in the 8 feet diameter shaft. The shaft cage was hanging in the shaft at the collar adjacent to the access platform. The tugboat went ashore with the off going swing shift.

My phone rang about one in the morning. The tugboat operator informed me the new crane operator had let Bob and two of his crew down the shaft in the enclosed circular cage. He let them free fall a considerable distance then jerked on the brake to stop the fall. The cage had bounced around going down and the sudden stop drove all three men to their knees in the tight confines of the cage. The crane operator couldn’t operate the crane and didn’t dare try to move them. Bob sent the tugboat operator to call me so my day shift crane operator could come out and get them out of the shaft. I told the tugboat operator to go back to the barge, get the new operator, and bring him to shore. He had better be off the project before Bob LeMay gets out of that shaft and kills him. If Bob didn’t kill him, I would definitely kick his butt all the way back to Bismark.

I picked up Joe, my crane operator, and we got to the barge about two thirty. We were very cautious as we didn’t know if the crane malfunctioned or if the incident was operator error. We had no way to get Bob and his two hands out of the cage. The crane operated normally. When the cage hit the collar of the shaft Bob’s first move was to find the non-operator. All three of the men in the cage had some scrapes caused by going from freefall to stop in a heartbeat, but no serious injuries. The crew ate lunch and went back to work with Joe operating the crane. The incident and accident reports took up the rest of my night.

Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake……… not letting Bob LeMay get his hands on that non-operator.

Curious Clay

We mobilized the off shore shaft at Lake Sakakawea while the crews started mining with the Lovat tunnel boring machine utilizing the on shore shaft. The 48 foot by 60 foot barge was assembled and equipped with a Manitowoc 3900 crawler crane with 100 foot of boom, a Cat 300KW generator set, crew shack, and misc supplies. Each corner of the barge had a 100′ steel tubing leg which would be lowered to the bottom of the lake to stabilize the barge and hold it stationary as work was accomplished. The tubes were called spuds. The barge was called a spud barge.

The 8 foot diameter steel liner of the off shore shaft extended 80 feet through water and 40 feet into the ground below the lake. Work was abandoned during the winter. Gates and Fox had the contract to complete the project. We were dewatering the shaft with electric pumps and had about thirty feet of water remaining. We would lower the pump about ten feet each time it ran out of water. Clay Paulsen, a Gates & Fox general superintendent, and John Paul White, the owners construction manager, visited the barge. Both were dressed in casual business attire from a recent meeting. They wanted to go down and inspect the shaft. We had a small round fully enclosed shaft cage for the crane, but we weren’t set up for working in the shaft. They insisted they would be fine using verbal communication to the top lander, who signaled the crane. They had one flashlight.All went well to within 20 feet of the water level. They stopped the cage and were discussing the shaft condition. Suddenly the top lander heard a gush of water enter the shaft. The water was carrying small rocks and he could hear them bouncing off the cage and steel liner. The noise overwhelmed any verbal communication. We all ran to the top of the liner and looked into the darkness. The cage was spinning and they were moving around, but we didn’t dare move the cage because we couldn’t see them. It seemed like forever before the noise and water stopped gushing into the shaft. The silence was eerie. We all heard a meek voice say “take us up”. When the cage hit the top of the shaft Clay and John Paul looked like a couple drowned rats. They were covered with dirty black coal water and mud. Clay was curious and reached out of the cage to open a two inch ball valve. The valve had over 80 psi of pressure as it blew water and debris into the shaft. The blast of debris spun the cage and he couldn’t close the valve. They lost the flashlight and couldn’t see. Clay was finally able to stop the cage from spinning and get the valve closed. They didn’t have much to say as they exited the shaft cage and headed for the tugboat ride to shore.

Clay let his curiosity over run his brain……….and paid dearly for it.

Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea is the reservoir behind Garrison Dam on the Missouri River in North Dakota. The lake has 1320 miles of shoreline, is 178 miles long, and is up to 180 feet deep. It’s one of the best northern pike and walleye fishing locations in the country.

Gates and Fox negotiated a target estimate agreement on a partially completed project just north of Beulah, North Dakota. The project consisted of an onshore shaft and pump station, 3400 feet of segment lined tunnel, and an offshore shaft on Lake Sakakawea. The previous contractor had numerous problems with the project. The project owners removed the contractor and rebid the remaining work. When we arrived on site in May of 1982 the on shore shaft was excavated to grade and tunnel excavation was started. The twenty foot off shore shaft cofferdam was installed and an eight foot diameter steel liner had been installed through 80 feet of water and driven to refusal in the bottom of the lake bed. In order to prevent damage from ice during the winter the cofferdam had been removed and 25 feet had been cut off the steel liner of the shaft. All off shore equipment had been demobilized for the winter. There wasn’t a tree within several miles of the job site. The project when completed would supply water for a large coal gasification plant under construction a few miles away.

Jim Lewis was our project manager. Gene Creech from Downsville,NY was brought in to act as our offshore operations manager to reinstall the cofferdam and shaft liner. Gene worked on the submittals of work plans while designing a neoprene seal system to be installed on the steel shaft liner section which had been removed. Myself and Gene had the chore of locating the submerged shaft under 25 feet of water. This was before GPS and cell phones that could follow you anywhere you went.

We studied the shoreline contours in relation to the underwater shaft location. Our project surveyor established some reference points with flagged poles which we could see while searching for the location on the lake. We then resorted to old style, accurate methods, with a long history of success in underwater searches. We had a rope with a concrete block on it which was trolled back and forth from an aluminum boat. It sounds pretty simple, but when you’re a over half mile from shore trying to triangulate on a couple flags, an eight foot target can get pretty elusive. Needless to say we spent a considerable amount of hours until we heard the resounding clunk. We immediately dropped our sophisticated buoy marker. An empty blue one gallon Chevron Delo 400 oil jug with a sealed lid on a separate rope. Once we had the first bouy it was easy to finalize the location and get several bouys for reference. Our crews on shore were fabricating the seal on the steel shaft liner, mobilizing the barges, crane, tugboat, and other off shore equipment.

We didn’t get too fancy on underwater shaft locating equipment,,,,,,,,but we were stubborn enough to get the job done.



Snow Bird Mine

The Snowbird Mine near Foresthills, CA was originally mined thru an inclined shaft prior to the depression. The mine was a good producer of gold. Kirk Fox and the owners of the mine agreed to do some evaluation and exploration of the property to determine the feasibility of future mining operations. Maps and information on the mine were available. There was no way to confirm all the underground workings were included on the maps. Myself, Ron Weaver, Kevin Miller, and Mike Janzeski made the initial site visit. Just out of the hamlet of Foresthills my pick-up blew oil out of the filter gasket. The one gas station in seven counties had the replacement parts. We were lucky enough to have two vehicles and a service station within a convenient distance.

Several weeks later myself and Kevin Miller were mobilizing Gates & Fox’s Koehring Speedstar Air Rotary drill and water truck to start exploration drilling. We parked the drill on site and returned to get the water truck. Bad weather was moving in as we departed the drill. We anticipated rain at the 4100 foot elevation of the mine and snow above 5000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Foresthill Ridge road was paved and took us within a few miles of the mine, but it was downhill all the way from the  top of the ridge. We ran into snow on our return trip with the water truck and had nearly two feet on the ridge. We parked the water truck, returned to the mine, and brought the drill to the top of the ridge. In four hours the snow was up to the bumper on my Toyota pick-up. The storm dropped four feet of snow overnight and we couldn’t get back for nearly a week. We thought the mine’s name was appropriate.

We drilled and sampled several air rotary holes at the Snow Bird based on information from the old maps. Kevin and I were drilling and standing on the rear deck of the drill. All of a sudden there was a loud swooshing noise as a column of slimy red orange colored water blew out of the hole. We were drenched before we could react, shut down the drill, and kill the compressor. The drill had penetrated the old mine workings full of water and the water was rank. Even the drill was covered with the old stinking rust colored slime. The exploration revealed the old time miners did a pretty good job of removing all the gold from the snowbird mine.

Oil filter leaks, snow half way to a tall Indians rear, slime water, and no gold ……….make me think the Snow Bird was jinxed.


The Bendix Corporation owned large tracts of timber properties in the region around Jackson, California. An old mine near Grizzly Flats adjacent to the Consumes River was on one of the timber tracts. In the early 1980’s there was a surge in gold prices and also a lot of interest in gold properties. Bendix was very surprised by the number of inquiries they received wanting to lease the old mine. Surprisingly, they received all of the mine drawings, production records, and history when they purchased the property. Bendix contacted Kirk Fox and hired Gates and Fox to re-open the old workings, sample, and evaluate the old mine. Bendix was into timber, but wanted a valuation of the mine. The mine had a gold bearing quartz vein about six feet wide  with a steep inclination.

Myself and Roger Moore mobilized the job with a International 100E tracked loader and a truckload of mining timber to re-establish the caved in portal. The original portal was blasted from above to make it permanently closed and safe to the public. We scratched around with the loader and found traces of the old mine railroad to establish line and grade. Most of our time was spent on the 100E digging out enough of the portal for our timber sets. We lagged between the posts and caps on four foot centers with rough cut 3×12 lumber. It took eight sets of timber to reach the rock face of the old mine. Once the portal was timbered we had to get up on the side of the mountain and backfill over the timber sets. The backfill would stabilize the timbers sets and prevent a large rock coming off the side of the mountain from breaking through our timber sets.

After walking the side of the mountain several times, a route was found to get the tracked loader above the portal. We topped off the fuel and loaded the bucket with everything needed for several days operation. The terrain was too steep to be packing fuel, oil, etc by hand. A road was out of the question. It was a little iffy at times, but the little tracked loader climbed into position and we started backfilling. On the second day the loader developed a bad engine knock. Something broke. Favon Cook came out to check it the next day. He wasn’t overly impressed with the location of the loader. We decided the damage was done, so see if it will stay together long enough to finish the backfill. I spent a lot of time holding my breath because a stall at the wrong time would send me tumbling to the bottom. Later inspection at our shop found the crankshaft had broken inside of one of the main bearing journals. We couldn’t believe it kept running.

When we core drilled the vein down deep it had the prettiest wire gold I have ever seen. The vein was well defined, but narrowed in width as it went deep. The gold is still there………’s not financially feasible to go get it because of dewater and development costs.

No Go

The gravel road into the Gold Run mine was in excellent condition. The grades were fairly flat except for one long straight hill which dropped to the grade of the lower river bed. When we started demobilizing our equipment I would go to the site early in the morning, open the gates, and bring the equipment to the top of the hill for loading. Our truck driver Kieth would be an hour or so behind me. The tractor trailer with the lowboy could negotiate the hill empty, but not with a heavy load.

We had a two drill jumbo which was mounted on an off road mine truck chassis. The dump bed had been removed, the chassis shortened, and hydraulic drill booms welded to the rear chassis. The original truck cab was replaced by a small low profile operator platform on the front of the jumbo. After checking the fluids and warming up the engine I headed for the loading area at the top of the hill. The drill jumbo’s are heavy and designed for slow operation within the confines of a tunnel. They are long, slow, and cumbersome to drive outside of the tunnels. The jumbo headed up the hill slowly with the drills to the front and the cab to the rear for weight distribution.

About twenty feet from the top of the hill the engine raced and the hydraulic torque convertor went into neutral. The jumbo stopped momentarily as I jumped on the brake, then headed down the hill backwards, with no brakes. After feathering the throttle a few times the convertor was still not picking up oil. The jumbo was gaining speed fast and the steering was really sloppy as we headed down the hill backwards. There was no way to end this ride with a soft landing. I gently steered towards the high side of the road and jumped out of the cab on the low side of the road. The jumbo hit the ditch and bank while I was tumbling down the opposite side of the road. The operators cab was full of gravel from the bank, the engine was still running, and nothing was damaged. With the exception of a few gravel scrapes my egress had been very successful. Surprising, my first impulse after getting on my feet was to look around and see if anybody was watching. There wasn’t another person within a mile of the hill. When Kieth arrived the cab was cleaned of all the dirt. The 980 Cat loader and tow cables were hooked up to drag the jumbo up the hill.

It wasn’t that bad of a ride…….once the shaking stopped.

Dumb and Dumber

We have all encountered examples of stupidity that were so outlandish they will forever be a part of our memories. One of my favorites happened while working graveyard shift underground at the Gold Run gold mine. My crew had ten men including the mechanic in the shop. We kept busy all night driving the tunnels and doing all the support work required to keep operations running smoothly. We often accomplished the odd jobs which were very impactive to do on day shift, but easy to schedule in on nights.

It was about three in the morning on a typical shift. Our night had been progressing well. My crew was split between drilling and blasting production tunnel rounds, removing the muck from previous blasted drill outs, and doing some safety rock bolting with wire mesh on a new cross cut tunnel. All of the activities were normal jobs the miners accomplished on a daily basis. The three man crew doing the rock bolting consisted of a miner, miners helper, and mucking machine operator. They were all lined out and should finish the job in about an hour. We had rock bolted the area where they were working as the tunnel was mined a few weeks before. They were installing wire mesh on the existing bolts and drilling and installing additional bolts to keep the mesh tight against the rock. The wire mesh would prevent the ground from dribbling small rocks and becoming troublesome in the future. They worked out of the eight yard mucker bucket to drill and install their bolts and mesh.

While inspecting one of the working tunnels, the mucker operator from the rock bolt crew came walking up. He explained the miner had sent him to tell me he needed a ladder. After a short conversation he assured me nothing had caved in, the mucker was running fine, and he had no idea why they needed a ladder. Something wasn’t right. We went back to the work area and the miner and his helper were drilling away. They were almost ready to tighten up the mesh and be finished. Everything looked normal. They finished the hole and I asked why they needed a ladder. The miner stated they had several bolts installed with the drill that needed plates and nuts on them to pull the mesh tight. They couldn’t reach the holes because they were in an area of the crown of the tunnel which was several feet higher. I had him explain it to me again because something was not right. He was serious. With no way to contain my anger, I exploded. Working in the bucket of a $300,000 hydraulic mucking machine and this idiot wants a $30 ladder to reach three feet higher. When I asked if he ever considered raising the mucker bucket his face went blank. I spun on my heel and headed down the tunnel shaking my head. How did this guy ever find his way back and forth from home to work?

My temper flared…….but the idiot didn’t get tramped until he finished the job.